1959 Tibetan uprising

1959 Tibetan uprising

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The 1959 Tibetan uprising, or 1959 Tibetan Rebellion began on 10 March 1959, when a revolt erupted in Lhasa
Lhasa
Lhasa is the administrative capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region in the People's Republic of China and the second most populous city on the Tibetan Plateau, after Xining. At an altitude of , Lhasa is one of the highest cities in the world...

, the capital of Tibet
Tibet
Tibet is a plateau region in Asia, north-east of the Himalayas. It is the traditional homeland of the Tibetan people as well as some other ethnic groups such as Monpas, Qiang, and Lhobas, and is now also inhabited by considerable numbers of Han and Hui people...

, which had been under the effective control of the Communist Party of China
Communist Party of China
The Communist Party of China , also known as the Chinese Communist Party , is the founding and ruling political party of the People's Republic of China...

 since the Seventeen Point Agreement
Seventeen Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet
The Agreement of the Central People's Government and the Local Government of Tibet on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet, or the Seventeen Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet for short, is the document by which the delegates of the 14th Dalai Lama allegedly reached an...

 in 1951. Although the 14th Dalai Lama's flight occurred in 1959, armed conflict between Tibetan rebellion forces and the Chinese army started in 1956 in the Kham
Kham
Kham , is a historical region covering a land area largely divided between present-day Tibetan Autonomous Region and Sichuan province, with smaller portions located within Qinghai, Gansu and Yunnan provinces of China. During the Republic of China's rule over mainland China , most of the region was...

 and Amdo
Amdo
Amdo is one of the three traditional regions of Tibet, the other two being Ü-Tsang and Kham; it is also the birth place of the 14th Dalai Lama. Amdo encompasses a large area from the Machu River to the Drichu river . While culturally and ethnically a Tibetan area, Amdo has been administered by a...

 regions, which were subjected to socialist reform. The guerrilla warfare
Guerrilla warfare
Guerrilla warfare is a form of irregular warfare and refers to conflicts in which a small group of combatants including, but not limited to, armed civilians use military tactics, such as ambushes, sabotage, raids, the element of surprise, and extraordinary mobility to harass a larger and...

 later spread to other areas of Tibet and lasted through 1962.

The anniversary of the uprising is observed by some Tibetan exiles as the Tibetan Uprising Day
Tibetan Uprising Day
Tibetan Uprising Day, observed on March 10, commemorates the 1959 Tibetan uprising against the presence of the People's Republic of China in Tibet...

.

Armed resistance in east Tibet


In 1951, a seventeen point agreement
Seventeen Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet
The Agreement of the Central People's Government and the Local Government of Tibet on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet, or the Seventeen Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet for short, is the document by which the delegates of the 14th Dalai Lama allegedly reached an...

 between the People's Republic of China
People's Republic of China
China , officially the People's Republic of China , is the most populous country in the world, with over 1.3 billion citizens. Located in East Asia, the country covers approximately 9.6 million square kilometres...

 and representatives of the Dalai Lama
Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama is a high lama in the Gelug or "Yellow Hat" branch of Tibetan Buddhism. The name is a combination of the Mongolian word далай meaning "Ocean" and the Tibetan word bla-ma meaning "teacher"...

 was put into effect. Socialist reforms such as redistribution of land were delayed in Tibet proper. However, eastern Kham
Kham
Kham , is a historical region covering a land area largely divided between present-day Tibetan Autonomous Region and Sichuan province, with smaller portions located within Qinghai, Gansu and Yunnan provinces of China. During the Republic of China's rule over mainland China , most of the region was...

 and Amdo
Amdo
Amdo is one of the three traditional regions of Tibet, the other two being Ü-Tsang and Kham; it is also the birth place of the 14th Dalai Lama. Amdo encompasses a large area from the Machu River to the Drichu river . While culturally and ethnically a Tibetan area, Amdo has been administered by a...

 (western Sichuan
Sichuan
' , known formerly in the West by its postal map spellings of Szechwan or Szechuan is a province in Southwest China with its capital in Chengdu...

 and Qinghai
Qinghai
Qinghai ; Oirat Mongolian: ; ; Salar:) is a province of the People's Republic of China, named after Qinghai Lake...

 provinces in the Chinese administrative hierarchy) were outside the administration of the Tibetan government in Lhasa
Lhasa
Lhasa is the administrative capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region in the People's Republic of China and the second most populous city on the Tibetan Plateau, after Xining. At an altitude of , Lhasa is one of the highest cities in the world...

, and were thus treated more like other Chinese provinces, with land redistribution implemented in full. The Khampas and nomads of Amdo traditionally owned their own land. Armed resistance broke out in Amdo and eastern Kham in June 1956.

By 1957, Kham was in chaos. People's Liberation Army
People's Liberation Army
The People's Liberation Army is the unified military organization of all land, sea, strategic missile and air forces of the People's Republic of China. The PLA was established on August 1, 1927 — celebrated annually as "PLA Day" — as the military arm of the Communist Party of China...

 reprisals against Khampa resistance fighters such as the Chushi Gangdruk
Chushi Gangdruk
Chushi Gangdruk was an organization of Tibetan guerrilla fighters who attempted to overthrow the rule of the People's...

 became increasingly brutal. Reportedly, they included beatings, starving prisoners, and the rape of prisoners' wives in front of them until they confessed. Monks and nuns were forced to have sex with each other and forcibly renounce their celibacy vows. After torture, these men and women were often killed. By the late 1950s Tibetan rebels numbered in the tens of thousands. Kham's monastic networks came to be used by guerilla forces to relay messages and hide rebels. Punitive strikes were carried out by the Chinese government against Tibetan villages and monasteries. Tibetan exiles assert that threats to bomb the Potala Palace
Potala Palace
The Potala Palace is located in Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region, China. It was named after Mount Potala, the abode of Chenresig or Avalokitesvara...

 and the Dalai Lama were made by Chinese military commanders in an attempt to intimidate the guerrilla forces into submission.

Lhasa continued to abide by the seventeen point agreement and sent a delegation to Kham to quell the rebellion. After speaking with the rebel leaders, the delegation instead joined the rebellion. Kham leaders contacted the Central Intelligence Agency
Central Intelligence Agency
The Central Intelligence Agency is a civilian intelligence agency of the United States government. It is an executive agency and reports directly to the Director of National Intelligence, responsible for providing national security intelligence assessment to senior United States policymakers...

 (CIA), but the CIA under President Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States, from 1953 until 1961. He was a five-star general in the United States Army...

 insisted it required an official request from Lhasa to support the rebels. Lhasa did not act. Eventually the CIA began to provide covert support for the rebellion without word from Lhasa. By then the rebellion had spread to Lhasa which had filled with refugees from Amdo and Kham. Opposition to the Chinese presence in Tibet grew within the city of Lhasa.

In mid-February 1959 the CCP Central Committee’s Administrative Office circulated the Xinhua News Agency internal report on how “the revolts in the Tibetan region have gathered pace and developed into a nearly full-scale rebellion.” in a “situation report” for top CCP leaders. When Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong, also transliterated as Mao Tse-tung , and commonly referred to as Chairman Mao , was a Chinese Communist revolutionary, guerrilla warfare strategist, Marxist political philosopher, and leader of the Chinese Revolution...

 read it on 18 February, he commented:

The next day, the Chinese leader saw a report from the PLA General Staff
General Staff
A military staff, often referred to as General Staff, Army Staff, Navy Staff or Air Staff within the individual services, is a group of officers and enlisted personnel that provides a bi-directional flow of information between a commanding officer and subordinate military units...

’s Operations Department describing rebellions by Tibetans in Sichuan, Yunnan
Yunnan
Yunnan is a province of the People's Republic of China, located in the far southwest of the country spanning approximately and with a population of 45.7 million . The capital of the province is Kunming. The province borders Burma, Laos, and Vietnam.Yunnan is situated in a mountainous area, with...

, Gansu
Gansu
' is a province located in the northwest of the People's Republic of China.It lies between the Tibetan and Huangtu plateaus, and borders Mongolia, Inner Mongolia, and Ningxia to the north, Xinjiang and Qinghai to the west, Sichuan to the south, and Shaanxi to the east...

, and Qinghai. He again stressed that “rebellions like these are extremely favorable for us because they will benefit us in helping to train our troops, train the people, and provide a sufficient reason to crush the rebellion and carry out comprehensive reforms in the future.”

The PLA used Chinese Muslim
Hui people
The Hui people are an ethnic group in China, defined as Chinese speaking people descended from foreign Muslims. They are typically distinguished by their practice of Islam, however some also practice other religions, and many are direct descendants of Silk Road travelers.In modern People's...

 soldiers, who formally had served under Ma Bufang
Ma Bufang
Ma Bufang was a prominent Muslim Ma clique warlord in China during the Republic of China era, ruling the northwestern province of Qinghai. His rank was Lieutenant-general...

 to crush the Tibetan revolt in Amdo. In Southern Kham, Hui cavalry were stationed.

Lhasa Rebellion


On 1 March 1959, an unusual invitation to attend a theatrical performance at the Chinese military headquarters outside Lhasa was extended to the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama—at the time studying for his lharampa geshe
Geshe
Geshe is a Tibetan Buddhist academic degree for monks...

 degree—initially postponed the meeting, but the date was eventually set for 10 March. On 9 March, the head of the Dalai Lama's bodyguard was visited by Chinese army officers. The officers insisted that the Dalai Lama would not be accompanied by his traditional armed escort to the performance, and that no public ceremony for the Dalai Lama's procession from the palace to the camp should take place, counter to tradition.

According to historian Tsering Shakya
Tsering Shakya
Tsering Wangdu Shakya is a historian and widely cited expert on Tibetan literature and modern Tibet and its relationship with China...

, the Chinese government was pressuring the Dalai Lama to attend the National People's Congress
National People's Congress
The National People's Congress , abbreviated NPC , is the highest state body and the only legislative house in the People's Republic of China. The National People's Congress is held in the Great Hall of the People, Beijing, capital of the People's Republic of China; with 2,987 members, it is the...

 in April 1959, in order to repair China's image with relation to ethnic minorities after the Khampa's rebellion. On 7 February 1959, a significant day on the Tibetan calendar, the Dalai Lama attended a religious dance, after which the acting representative in Tibet, Tan Guansan, offered the Dalai Lama a chance to see a performance from a dance troupe native to Lhasa at the Norbulingka
Norbulingka
Norbulingka is a palace and surrounding park in Lhasa, Tibet, built from 1755. It served as the traditional summer residence of the successive Dalai Lamas from the 1780s up until the 14th Dalai Lama's exile in 1959...

 to celebrate the Dalai Lama's completion of his lharampa geshe degree. According to the Dalai Lama's memoirs, the Dalai Lama agreed, but said that the Norbulingka did not have the facilities, and suggested the new auditorium in the PLA headquarters in Lhasa as a more appropriate venue. Neither the Kashag
Kashag
The Kashag was the governing council of Tibet during Qing Dynasty and Republic of China. It was set by Qianlong Emperor in 1751. In that year the Tibetan government was reorganized after the riots in Lhasa of the previous year...

 nor the Dalai Lama's bodyguards were informed of the Dalai Lama's plans until Chinese officials briefed them on 9 March, one day before the performance was scheduled, and insisted that they would handle the Dalai Lama's security. Some members of the Kashag were alarmed that were not also invited to lead a customary armed procession, recalling a prophecy that told that the Dalai Lama should not exit his palace.

According to historian Tsering Shakya
Tsering Shakya
Tsering Wangdu Shakya is a historian and widely cited expert on Tibetan literature and modern Tibet and its relationship with China...

, some Tibetan government officials feared that plans were being laid for a Chinese abduction of the Dalai Lama, and spread word to that effect amongst the inhabitants of Lhasa. On 10 March, several thousand Tibetans surrounded the Dalai Lama's palace to prevent him from leaving or being removed. The huge crowd had gathered in response to a rumor that the Chinese communists were planning to arrest the Dalai Lama when he went to a cultural performance at the PLA's headquarters. This marked the beginning of the uprising in Lhasa, though Chinese forces had skirmished with guerrillas outside the city in December of the previous year. Although CCP officials insisted that the “reactionary upper stratum” in Lhasa was responsible for the rumor, there is no way to identify the precise source. At first, the violence was directed at Tibetan officials perceived not to have protected the Dalai Lama or to be pro-Chinese; attacks on Hans started later. One of the first casualties of mob was a senior lama, Pagbalha Soinam Gyamco, who worked with the PRC as a member of the Preparatory Committee of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, who was killed and his body dragged by a horse in front of the crowd for two kilometres.

On 12 March, protesters appeared in the streets of Lhasa declaring Tibet's independence. Barricades went up on the streets of Lhasa, and Chinese and Tibetan rebel forces began to fortify positions within and around Lhasa in preparation for conflict. A petition of support for the armed rebels outside the city was taken up, and an appeal for assistance was made to the Indian consul. Chinese and Tibetan troops continued moving into position over the next several days, with Chinese artillery pieces being deployed within range of the Dalai Lama's summer palace, the Norbulingka
Norbulingka
Norbulingka is a palace and surrounding park in Lhasa, Tibet, built from 1755. It served as the traditional summer residence of the successive Dalai Lamas from the 1780s up until the 14th Dalai Lama's exile in 1959...

. On 15 March, preparations for the Dalai Lama's evacuation from the city were set in motion, with Tibetan troops being employed to secure an escape route from Lhasa. On 17 March, two artillery shells landed near the Dalai Lama's palace, triggering his flight into exile. On 19 March the Chinese started to shell the Norbulingka, prompting the full force of the Uprising. Combat lasted only about two days, with Tibetan rebel forces being badly outnumbered and poorly armed. Two American Marxist writers, Stuart and Roma Gelder, visited the Chensel Phodrang palace in the Norbulingka in 1962 and "found its contents meticulously preserved". They did not claim that the Norbulingka had not been damaged.

United States involvement



The United States funded training and arms for the guerrillas in Tibet prior to the uprising and for several years following. From 1959 to 1964, Tibetan guerrillas
Chushi Gangdruk
Chushi Gangdruk was an organization of Tibetan guerrilla fighters who attempted to overthrow the rule of the People's...

 were secretly trained at Camp Hale by the Central Intelligence Agency
Central Intelligence Agency
The Central Intelligence Agency is a civilian intelligence agency of the United States government. It is an executive agency and reports directly to the Director of National Intelligence, responsible for providing national security intelligence assessment to senior United States policymakers...

 (CIA).

The Tibetan project was codenamed ST Circus, and it was similar to the CIA operation that trained dissident Cubans
Cubans
Cubans or Cuban people are the inhabitants or citizens of Cuba. Cuba is a multi-ethnic nation, home to people of different ethnic and national backgrounds...

 in what later became the Bay of Pigs Invasion
Bay of Pigs Invasion
The Bay of Pigs Invasion was an unsuccessful action by a CIA-trained force of Cuban exiles to invade southern Cuba, with support and encouragement from the US government, in an attempt to overthrow the Cuban government of Fidel Castro. The invasion was launched in April 1961, less than three months...

. In all, around 259 Tibetans were trained at Camp Hale. Some were parachuted back into Tibet to link up with local resistance groups (most perished); others were sent overland into Tibet on intelligence gathering missions; and yet others were instrumental in setting up the CIA-funded Tibetan resistance force that operated out of Mustang, in northern Nepal (1959–1974).

Sino-Soviet Split


The Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 offered moral support to the Tibetan rebels, saying that theirs was a "legitimate grievance" against the Chinese.

Casualties


The Tibetan government-in-exile reports variously, 85,000, 86,000, and 87,000 deaths for Tibetans during the rebellion, attributed to "secret Chinese documents captured by guerrillas". Tibetologist Tom Grunfeld
A. Tom Grunfeld
A. Tom Grunfeld is SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor at Empire State College of the State University of New York, specializing in the modern history of east Asia, particularly of China and Tibet....

 said "the veracity of such a claim is difficult to verify." Warren W. Smith, a broadcaster from Radio Free Asia
Radio Free Asia
Radio Free Asia is a private, nonprofit corporation that operates a radio station and Internet news service. RFA was founded by an act of the US Congress and is operated by the Broadcasting Board of Governors . The RFA is supported in part by grants from the federal government of the United States...

, writes that the "secret documents" came from a 1960 PLA report captured by guerrillas in 1966, with the figures first published by the TGIE in India in 1990. Smith states that the documents said that 87,000 "enemies were eliminated", but does not take "eliminated" to mean "killed", as the TGIE does. A Tibetan Government in Exile (TGIE) official surnamed Samdup released a report for Asia Watch after three fact-finding missions from 1979 to 1981, stating that a speech by premier Zhou Enlai
Zhou Enlai
Zhou Enlai was the first Premier of the People's Republic of China, serving from October 1949 until his death in January 1976...

, published in Beijing Review
Beijing Review
Beijing Review is China's only national news magazine in English, published by the China International Publishing Group. It claims a per-issue circulation of 70,000 and distribution "throughout China and 150 countries and regions worldwide."...

in 1980, confirmed the 87,000 figure. Demographer Yan Hao could find no reference to any such figure in the published speech, and concluded, "If these TGIE sources are not reluctant to fabricate Chinese sources in open publications, how can they expect people to believe in their citations of so-called Chinese secret internal documents and speeches that are never available in originals to independent researchers?"

Aftermath


Lhasa's three major monasteries- Sera
Sera Monastery
Sera Monastery is one of the 'great three' Gelukpa university monasteries of Tibet, located north of Lhasa. The other two are Ganden Monastery and Drepung Monastery. The origin of the name 'Sera' is attributed to a fact that the site where the monastery was built was surrounded by wild roses in...

, Ganden
Ganden Monastery
Ganden Monastery or Ganden Namgyeling is one of the 'great three' Gelukpa university monasteries of Tibet, located at the top of Wangbur Mountain, Tagtse County, 36 kilometers ENE from the Potala Palace in Lhasa, at an altitude of 4,300m...

, and Drepung
Drepung Monastery
Drepung Monastery ,, located at the foot of Mount Gephel, is one of the "great three" Gelukpa university monasteries of Tibet...

- were seriously damaged by shelling, with Sera and Drepung being damaged nearly beyond repair. According to the TGIE, Members of the Dalai Lama's bodyguard remaining in Lhasa were disarmed and publicly executed, along with Tibetans found to be harbouring weapons in their homes. Thousands of Tibetan monks were executed or arrested, and monasteries and temples around the city were looted or destroyed.

The CIA officer, Bruce Walker, who oversaw the operations of CIA-trained Tibetan agents, was troubled by the hostility from the Tibetans towards his agents: “the radio teams were experiencing major resistance from the population inside Tibet.” The CIA trained Tibetans from 1957 to 1972, in the United States, and parachuted them back into Tibet to organise rebellions against the PLA. In one incident, one agent was immediately reported by his own brother and all three agents in the team were arrested. They were not mistreated. After less than a month of propaganda sessions, they were escorted to the Indian border and released.

In April 1959, the-19 year-old 10th Panchen Lama
Choekyi Gyaltsen
Lobsang Trinley Lhündrub Chökyi Gyaltsen was the 10th Panchen Lama of Gelug School of Tibetan Buddhism. He was often referred to simply as Choekyi Gyaltsen , although this is also the name of several other notable figures in Tibetan history.-Early life and selection:The 10th Panchen Lama was born...

, the second ranking spiritual leader in Tibet, residing in Shigatse
Shigatse
Shigatse is a county-level city and the second largest city in Tibet Autonomous Region , People's Republic of China, with a population of 92000, about southwest of Lhasa and northwest of Gyantse...

, called on Tibetans to support the Chinese government. However, after a tour through Tibet, in May 1962, he met Zhou Enlai
Zhou Enlai
Zhou Enlai was the first Premier of the People's Republic of China, serving from October 1949 until his death in January 1976...

 to discuss a petition he had begun writing at the end of 1961, criticising the situation in Tibet
Tibet
Tibet is a plateau region in Asia, north-east of the Himalayas. It is the traditional homeland of the Tibetan people as well as some other ethnic groups such as Monpas, Qiang, and Lhobas, and is now also inhabited by considerable numbers of Han and Hui people...

. The petition was a 70,000 character document that dealt with the brutal suppression of the Tibetan people during and after the Chinese invasion of Tibet
People's Liberation Army invasion of Tibet (1950–1951)
The Incorporation of Tibet into the People's Republic of China was the process by which the People's Republic of China gained control of the area comprising the present-day Tibetan Autonomous Region...

. In this document, he criticized the suppression that the Chinese authorities had conducted in retaliation for the 1959 Tibetan uprising. But in October 1962, the PRC authorities dealing with the population criticized the petition. Chairman Mao called the petition "... a poisoned arrow shot at the Party by reactionary feudal overlords." In 1967 the Panchen Lama was formally arrested and imprisoned until his release in 1977.

Chinese authorities have interpreted the uprising as a revolt of the Tibetan elite against Communist reforms that were improving the lot of Tibetan serfs
Serfdom in Tibet controversy
The serfdom in Tibet controversy rests on both a political and an academic debate. In the political debate, Chinese sources claim moral authority for governing Tibet, based on narratives that portray Tibet as a "feudal serfdom" and a "hell on earth" prior to the invasion of Tibet in 1950...

. Tibetan and third party sources, on the other hand, have usually interpreted it as a popular uprising against the alien Chinese presence. Historian Tsering Shakya
Tsering Shakya
Tsering Wangdu Shakya is a historian and widely cited expert on Tibetan literature and modern Tibet and its relationship with China...

 has argued that it was a popular revolt against both the Chinese and the Lhasa government, which was perceived as failing to protect the authority and safety of the Dalai Lama from the Chinese.

See also

  • Incorporation of Tibet into the People's Republic of China
  • History of Tibet (1950-present)
  • Tibetan Resistance Since 1950
    Tibetan resistance since 1950
    Tibetan resistance to Chinese domination did not begin with the Invasion of Tibet in 1950. The history of Tibet and the history of China have been interconnected throughout the centuries. The complexity of their relationship is the root of the contemporary dispute over Tibetan claims of sovereignty...

  • 1987-1989 Tibetan unrest
  • 2008 Tibetan unrest
    2008 Tibetan unrest
    The 2008 Tibetan unrest, also known from its Chinese name as the 3•14 Riots, was a series of riots, protests, and demonstrations that started in Tibetan regional capital of Lhasa and spread to other Tibetan areas and a number of monasteries including outside the Tibet Autonomous Region...

  • Chushi Gangdruk
    Chushi Gangdruk
    Chushi Gangdruk was an organization of Tibetan guerrilla fighters who attempted to overthrow the rule of the People's...

  • Tibetan diaspora
    Tibetan diaspora
    The Tibetan diaspora is a term used to refer to the communities of Tibetan people living outside Tibet. Tibetan emigration happened in two waves: one in 1959 following the 14th Dalai Lama's self-exile in India, and the other in the 1980s when Tibet was opened to trade and tourism. The third wave...

  • Events leading to the Sino-Indian War
    Events leading to the Sino-Indian War
    A long series of events triggered the Sino-Indian War in 1962. According to John W. Garver, Chinese perceptions about the Indian designs for Tibet, and the failure to demarcate a common border between China and India were important in China's decision to fight a war with India.-Friendly...

  • Serfs Emancipation Day
    Serfs Emancipation Day
    Serf Liberation day , on March 28, is an annual holiday in Tibet, which celebrates what the central and local government calls the emancipation of serfs in Tibet. The holiday was adopted by the Tibetan legislature on January 19, 2009, and was celebrated that same year...

  • Sinicization of Tibet
    Sinicization of Tibet
    The sinicization of Tibet is the alleged change of Tibetan society to Han Chinese standards, by means of cultural assimilation, migration, and political reform. Sinicization on the one hand is an inevitable consequence of the presence of a large number of Han Chinese in Tibet and on the other hand...

  • Tibetan sovereignty debate
    Tibetan sovereignty debate
    The Tibetan sovereignty debate refers to two political debates. The first is whether the various territories within the People's Republic of China that are claimed as political Tibet should separate and become a new sovereign state...


External links